Juliana Santillanes

Atheneum has been and continues to be a fundamental part of my life and education in all the paths I have traveled. Each day I realize something more about what Atheneum provides and how much it really means to me. My experience was so vast and all encompassing that as life goes on I continue to discover what I was given each moment at Atheneum. I was very happy and inspired through out the years I was there, and it was not until I left and went to college that I realized how rare and exceptional my education there truly was. At Atheneum, I do not remember having the impression or mentality that there was a huge separation between body, mind and spirit. In my high school education, the pursuit of one was naturally the pursuit of the others. At Atheneum we start the school day by practicing the Great Learning, and opening our awareness to the internal. The Great Learning is the door to the deepest and sincerest ideas and careful pursuits, both intellectually and spiritually. I have recently completed the undergraduate program at St. John's College, and having some distance I am realizing that my education there was intensely focused on the intellectual pursuit. I literally had no time to sincerely incorporate the body and soul into my daily studies. I loved the program, and I feel like I went to the best college that I could have gone to for me, but I have never felt so free to be done! I have this image of holding my head at St. John's, as it becomes so weighted with unanswerable questions and parables. Meanwhile, the body and/or soul could be suffering silently as the immaterial thoughts take precedence. I can only imagine how much more powerful and clear most philosophies would be if the body was as cherished as the mind, or if the connection between the body, mind and soul was recognized with humility. It seems dangerous to me to specialize or solely focus and practice one mode of life. I remember this realization came to me while we were on an Atheneum trip to Montana, and I was upset that there was this push in the world, or maybe just in our country, to specialize in one field and not to take the liberty to branch out. I realized that I did not want to just be a biologist, or a mathematician or solely a photographer etc. I wanted it all and knew that I had the potential and inspiration to integrate many various fields into my life. I recently made a long list of all the professions I would love to pursue, and none of them would avoid or forget about the mind, body and soul connection. It is easy for liberal arts students to talk and talk without an ounce of sincerity, as though the ideas are a game and do not influence their actions or morals. The ideas are alive and I continue to have conversations with two close friends from Atheneum about the same dilemmas we discovered years ago in a two week intensive called: We don't need no education. We seem to be living our conversation and doing what seems most important for the world and removing the bricks in the wall! As alumni, our conversations continue year after year because there is something at stake in our thoughts and disagreements concerning education. What inspires sincerity in one's life to integrate and continue one's education so that one can move from a place of honesty, sincerity and kindness? For me it was and continues to be Atheneum, and most remarkably the Great Learning life practice. I am now returning to the Great Learning while I am studying massage. It is like I am practicing around my table, and I feel very grounded and connected. In other words, I don't feel distracted or in my head or solely in the mechanics of the strokes. Instead, I close my eyes and try to be sensitive to the body on my table: the blood flowing and heart beating. At my massage school (The Scherer Institute), my teachers talk a lot about grounding ourselves and being present to the moment as well as to our toes! The ideas and advice my teachers give me does not feel foreign or bizarre, because I can return to the principles of the practice, and feel alert to my body, mind and environment. I am confident that the Great Learning will make me the best massage therapist that I can be, and will allow me to be present to my client and the moment, and not how tired I am, or what I am going to have for dinner. This is an incredible gift that Kevin, Lydia, and Sifu have fully integrated into the program. Without the Great Learning, the seminars and the school itself would not be as exceptional. As I am writing this I can't help but smile, because I imagine Kevin reading this and what he would cross out with his pen and how he would still push me to be crystal clear, just as I imagined while I was writing paper after paper at St. John's College. The ways Atheneum, and the many students and faculty are present in the moments of my life are as countless as the grains of sand. 11-2006
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